From JNEB: Communicating Your Findings Through Graphical Abstracts | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

From JNEB: Communicating Your Findings Through Graphical Abstracts

Posted by: on Saturday May 7, 2022

Susan L. Johnson, PhD Senior Associate Editor, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior Advancing Research, Practice and Policy

A newer trend in science communication focuses on creating succinct, attractive graphics that convey the take-away findings of your project. A graphical abstract is one example of such communications. Graphical abstracts (GAs) are simple, key messages that allow the reader to visually take home the most important points about your project’s story; they have a start (most often the research question), a middle (how you addressed the question and key findings) and an end (your conclusion). Graphical abstracts, in their best form, can help us to keep pace with the magnitude of science that is put before us each day.

You may be asking yourself, “Why am I being asked to do one more thing to convey my findings?” Good question! And, as usual, the answer has at least 2 sides to the story. For your reader, GAs can be eye-catching and, at the least, attract readers to find out about your work. Graphical abstracts also can be shareable and lend themselves to social media plat- forms and can broaden the reach of your science communications with both scientific and public audiences. Either in the table of contents of the journal or via social media, GAs can draw the audience into reading your full article, increasing the potential for citations for the work; a definite win for the investigator or team.

Hullman and Bach (2018) have broken GAs into 4 basic design elements: layout, depiction of time, text usage, and representational genres.1 The layout refers to the organization of the graphical abstracts and can be linear (typically up/down or left/ right) or freer (centric with arrows pointing outward) in nature. Depiction of time conveys the temporal or sequential process involved in the work. Text usage refers to how text is incorporated into the GAs by way of labels, paragraphs (short!) and annotations. Last, representational genres range from the iconic to the symbolic and include many options such as photographs, illustrations, models, and schematic diagrams.

Do’s and don’ts of GAs are well defined; GAs have eye-catching, thought-provoking images with lay-outs and flows that are easy to follow.2 Text for GAs should be limited and should include: 1) the research question, 2) a small amount of context to introduce the question, 3) a label or 2, and icons to describe the methods, and 4) the “so what” of your findings. I’ve noted 2 consistent don’ts in my search for guidelines for GAs: 1) never put a figure or data table from your full article into your GA; and 2) avoid the use of jargon and abbreviations that keep the na¨ıve reader from being able to understand your message. The focus is to broaden your reach and communi- cate your science, and that requires becoming more general to convey the key points.

After having constructed your GA, make sure to get feedback from individuals who know your content area, as well as those who do not, as the insights of the lay reader will help to ensure that most individuals can discern your key messages from the lay-out and words you have chosen. Another consideration is where you want your GA to be seen; the online

table of contents of the journal is 1 place and social media platforms are an example of another. If the latter is important, start with that end in mind and make sure that your GA translates well to that platform. Make it easy for people to see and share your work!

I am excited about the prospect of including GAs among the ways that JNEB communicates the important work of nutrition education and behavior professionals to our community and beyond. As JNEB begins to include GAs as an option, I encourage you to embrace the oppor- tunity and consider including a graphical abstract in your work.


  1. Hullman J, Bach B. Picturing science: design patterns in graphical In: Chapman P, Stapleton G, Moktefi A, Perez-Kriz S, Bellucci F, eds. Diagram- matic Representation and Inference. 10th International Conference on Theory and Application of Diagrams 2018. Springer; 2018:183–200.
  2. Balbin M. Animate your science. Best examples of graphical abstracts. https:// amples-of-graphical-abstracts#:»:text=In%20a%20nutshell%2C%20a%20graphical,and%20 conclusions%2C%20complete%20with%20pictures. Accessed March 21, 2022.